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Improving Outcomes Through Collaboration, Connection, and Community

Crystal Sheffield has been the Secretary on the Board of Directors for A Curiae since its foundation and has been an essential voice in developing community partnerships for our direct services. In this article, she’ll discuss her passion and work for helping the community and how her approach lends to the mission of A Curiae.

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, I have always had an interest in helping people who were suffering – whether it was children in other countries, or people who were unhoused or in prison in my own country.

At a young age, this curiosity helped shape my compassion for people in need, and I often found myself in tears over the suffering of others. My own father was incarcerated for several years throughout most of my childhood, and this reality tested my resilience. As a teenager, I remember thinking that people who were in prison were good people beneath the shame of their transgressions. I am sure that these experiences, along with my love for helping people, fueled my desire to become a social worker.

For the last 15 years, I have worked with various disenfranchised communities. For more than half of those years, I have served people within the criminal legal system as a social worker. I have come to understand the importance of collaborating with those outside of my agency; this is not only a necessity, but I have made it my mission to work closely with others from a variety of disciplines to improve outcomes for our clients.

This need for connectivity has led to the creation of programs and events in collaboration with Probation and PreTrial Services. working together with court offices focused on transition planning for clients released from incarceration. These joint efforts have resulted in a greater understanding of the role of the colleague on the other side of a case and have aided in bringing together opposing sides. These collaborations have also helped create bridges between court departments, and even between departments that are often viewed as adversarial. Bridging these gaps and gaining a better understanding of the roles of each colleague have led to a growing mutual respect for one another’s work.

As a social worker, I understand that community engagement and community partnerships are vital components to meeting the needs of those who are returning home from incarceration. Advocates and providers have the privilege of not only working with those who are returning home, but engaging with other providers who can help foster positive outcomes. This type of fundamental collaboration is not only a good idea, but it is necessary when serving any members of the community.

Engaging with other community providers also has other key benefits - accountability, mental/emotional uplift, and professional growth for the helping professional. Connections with other helping professionals impact all who are involved, because there is a natural tendency to care for one another and to build community. As the community providers and advocates grow in strength and resilience, they can serve their clients well! They are standing arm-in-arm with other providers who are also committed to working toward better outcomes for their clients and for themselves.

A Curiae’s mission aligns with the need to address the major barriers that formerly incarcerated individuals face as they reenter their communities. A Curiae can work closely with defender agencies, probation and pretrial offices, judges, and prosecutors to bridge gaps through education (for both agencies and participants), partnerships (working alongside other agencies), and advocacy (assisting participants through its various programs). The key areas that are addressed by A Curiae are also some of the most requested needs by advocates, clients, and providers. In my experience working with clients after incarceration, those who have the support of a mentor or advocate tend to have more positive outcomes than those without.

A Curiae is setting the standard in bridging the gaps in reentry services by serving its clients, the courts, and the community.

- Crystal Sheffield

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